From boutique hotel to matching restaurant, the brothers behind Pearly Cow have created their own strong brand with a personal touch
In 2021, Tristan, James and Tom Guest launched their boutique hotel group GuestHouse, in Bath. Currently on track to reach their ambitious target of five hotels in five years, the brothers have now turned their attention to restaurants.
With industry stalwart Diego Masciaga consulting on service standards and food and beverage as the business expands, the trio has identified cities with ever-evolving food scenes for their Pearly Cow brand with its signature ‘food on ice and food over flame' menu, launching in a recently opened 58-cover site within their No 1 by GuestHouse, York.
"As we all know, restaurants are challenging businesses," says Tom. "That's why we've given Pearly Cow a real identity and have focused strongly on a clear food approach."
"We already have a business in York with the hotel, and we're joining a very active and thriving food scene," explains James. "We're spoilt for choice with great seafood, beautiful locally reared meats and great farmland, so it's a fantastic location to deliver this concept. We're really connected to the city and felt like it was a great launchpad."
Finding a place in the market
The second Pearly Cow restaurant will be in the brothers' Margate hotel in Kent.
"Concept-wise, it's going to be similar to York," says Tom. "We're currently in the process of getting that set up and learning from York." Brighton will follow in 2024.
"Before we acquired the first hotel, we'd put a lot of work into being clear about who we are and how we find our place in the market," says James. "We put thought into that right from the beginning, so we've always been clear on how we can position ourselves.
"Within this concept there's a lot of flex, so we could take it to a variety of locations, it could be bigger or smaller – it has that manoeuvrability. There's a certain size that is our sweet spot, which is between 20 to 45 keys. When we're looking at that, it's sometimes quite hard to find opportunities, but we were fortuitous in finding these sites and moving quickly to secure them, especially with Covid in the mix.
"We've worked with some fantastic people, such as Hunt Communications, and the brand and marketing are an important part of what we do. We've also worked with great partners and consultants like Diego. We'rerelatively small but we want to create a high level of quality and delivery with a relaxed, warm and welcoming setting. Diego has helped not only the three of us but also the wider team to deliver that."
The brothers bought the property for No 15 in Bath in October 2019, right before Covid which caused massive challenges in terms of opening and reopening and finding staff.
"But it's given us an opportunity to really understand the business," says Tom. "And we've been lucky to keep hold of our staff, and I think that's down to some of our core elements of trying to keep staff happy. We're keen on finding stars in the team to build a career path in the industry, people we can move up and into different roles. And if someone goes off to further their career elsewhere, hopefully they might come back with us another time."
Where possible, the group recruits locally, with around 150 people across the group, which will increase to more than 200 with the next opening.
"We recruit direct ourselves, we respect recommendations from people we know, and we sometimes use agencies," says James. "Finding the right people and developing them in the right way is the number one thing we need to get right, otherwise everything falls down.
"It's crucial that level of care and attention is right for each position to create a positive culture from day one."
Pace of expansion
The brothers plan to establish Pearly Cow in York, Margate and Brighton over the next 12 to 18 months. "If we were to move too quickly beyond that, we'd be in danger of spreading ourselves too thinly," says James. "However, we've got something here with a lot of flex to it, and we can bring that to a variety of locations."
The trio own 100% of the business, which gives them a lot of control to move at their own pace and be selective about locations.
"We don't feel under pressure to move to a site that might be wrong. We've been lucky to always buy off-market, which has allowed us to move quickly under radars. We've used good search consultants, and a lot of it is talking to people within the industry. We're in a fortunate position to be able to go and find sites that we ourselves are excited about and want to go to. We spend a lot of our time thinking about, talking about and going to these places."
Not just a hotel restaurant
"We're in the hotel, but Pearly Cow is its own thing," says food and beverage manager at Pearly Cow York, Jordan Gray. "The receptionist recently asked some guests if they'd like to dine in our restaurant, and they said, ‘no, we've booked somewhere new we've read about, called Pearly Cow'. Which is brilliant, it shows it's its own place, not just a restaurant in a hotel. We're a destination restaurant."
Dining out has changed in the last decade, believes Gray. "People don't just go out for a meal; they go out for an experience. Pearly Cow works for the consumer. You might come for lunch and have snacks and a main, you might go for the sharing menu or you can go for three courses. Every table orders differently. That's the great thing about the menu, there are snacks, starters, fire, ice – but you might have ice as a starter and then have a starter after; there's no set way to consume it."
In York, Pearly Cow celebrates local produce with its meat from R&J Butchers and fish and seafood straight out of the North Sea.
"If things do come from further afield it's because they're the best ingredients.
"We'll want to celebrate Margate and Brighton just like we're doing with York. Pearly Cow is very much about the city it's in."
On the menu at Pearly Cow York
- Lindisfarne oyster, served traditionally £4
- Coal-roasted prawns, heritage beetroot and orange £15
- Scottish crab, avocado, grapefruit, charred sourdough, spicy brown crab £15
- Half or whole grilled Scottish lobster, charred lemon, aioli £6 per 100g
- Black Angus burger, Wensleydale cheese, treacle-cured bacon, red onion marmalade £20
- Loin of Yorkshire lamb, glazed shoulder, Caesar aioli, sweet and sour peppers £29
- Fruits de mer: dressed oysters, coal-roasted prawns, dressed Scottish crab, cockles and mussels, served with garlic butter, lemon aioli, Marie Rose, charred lemon £65
- Whole turbot, sauce Grenobloise, brown shrimp, Jersey Royals and samphire £85
- 36oz salt-aged côte de boeuf with peppercorn sauce and béarnaise, glazed Roscoff onion, bone marrow £85
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